We were super excited to fly with our RV-10 plane pals Justin and Jess (justin-jess.blogspot.com) to Grand Marais, MN for a little sightseeing, hiking weekend getaway. We always like to visit the beautiful MN North Shore in the fall and it seemed like the perfect time to celebrate both our planes being done! Wahoo!
We left from the Red Wing airport in Justin & Jess’ plane in hopes of landing in the Grand Marais airport on Friday late morning.
Detailed flight side story from Ed:
The weather was looking a little iffy… solid low clouds covering pretty much the entire northern half of the state, however the Grand Marais airport was reporting that they were above the minimum weather requirements to get in on instruments. We decided to depart IFR from Red Wing, and that if we couldn’t get to Grand Marais, we’d see what other airports near by looked like, and worst case scenario, fly back to Red Wing and drive up in the car. Just north of Minneapolis, we crossed over a solid, low undercast. We were flying in smooth, clear, sunny conditions at 9000′, but it was a cloudy dreary day for those stuck below the clouds!
Well, as we got close to Grand Marais, the clouds had gone from being 500′ above the surface to 300′. The lowest they could go, where we could legally land, is 250′. It was really close, but we decided to give it a shot. Minneapolis Center cleared us for the approach, we plugged everything into the Garmin system in Justin’s plane (pretty much the same setup I have in our plane), and off we went. As we started descending, we entered the clouds at around 5000′. After about a thousand feet, we entered into a cool clear area between two cloud layers. It’s like being on another planet! As we went further down, we entered into the lower layer of clouds. As we’re going, Jusin is heads down, managing the plane (autopilot is actually flying) and staying fully engaged in what’s going on and what needs to be done… and I’m watching the altitude and looking out the window trying to spot the ground thru the bottom of the clouds. As we are on final approach to Grand Marais, I finally see trees! We’re at about maybe 600′, but that’s well above the minimums needed to land, and with the synthetic vision screen that Justin’s watching, we still have full situational awareness.
I called out “ground in sight” but that joy was short lived. Right at the edge of the airport property, we see a solid wall of clouds, all the way down to the ground. Crap. Justin stays heads down, and keeps flying the approach as published. We enter the wall of clouds, hoping it would be just a narrow patch, and we’d be able to see the runway on the other side. Well, we flew right down to the minimum allowable altitude, and were never able to catch a glimpse of the runway. Justin then made the call to go “missed” and accelerated and flew the published missed approach procedure, which has you climb straight out over Lake Superior, all the way up to 7000′, and enter a holding pattern while you contact ATC to figure out what to do next.
That’s when the next little learning experience happened. We got to the hold, and we couldn’t get ahold of ATC. Great. Well, the proper procedures for lost comms after going missed is to fly to the alternate airport that you included when you filed your flight plan. For us, that was back to Red Wing!
So, after a few times around the hold, trying to get ahold of ATC on every frequency we could think of, we started heading back towards the Twin Cities. In the meantime, I was also pulling up ADSB weather, and found that the Ely airport had much better weather, with clouds 1200′ above the ground. That’s where we would want to go. After another 5 minutes or so of trying to contact ATC, we finally got some staticy response, and ATC had a Delta jet flying overhead relay our communications. We told the Delta jet what we needed (to divert to Ely), the jet told ATC, then ATC had the jet relay their directions back to us. It was pretty interesting how that worked.
The 20 minute flight from Grand Marais to Ely was much less exciting, and after a few minutes more, we were talking to ATC directly. After another instrument approach, we broke out of the clouds at 1200′ and could clearly see the entire airport in front of us. Success!
So with our change in flying plans we canceled our car in Grand Marais and coordinated with the Ely airport to rent their courtesy car-van for the weekend [KUDOS to the Ely Airport!!].
It actually worked out really well because we were able to hit up the Split Rock Lighthouse on our way to Grand Marais in the
car kick ass van.
Split Rock Lighthouse was built as a result of a 1905 huge November gale which caused massive damage and fatalities on Lake Superior. Built in 1910 and now a part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s 26 sites, it includes the lighthouse itself, grounds including 3 resident buildings, and beautiful trails.
Ed and Justin especially liked putting their super-brains to work seeing how the lighthouse functioned…
Geeky sidenote from Ed:
The entire mechanical movement of the lighthouse’s spinning light works thru a gravity powered clockwork mechanism, with a large counter weight that has to be hand cranked up every 4 hours. Kind of like a big grandfather clock on steroids!
[dude…we could totally build this..]
And on our way to Grand Marais we were also able to hit up an AWESOME geocache (Silver Island Treasure for you fellow geocaching fans) in the Silver Bay public marina. It was by far the most challenging terrain we’ve ever traversed for a geocache, but the views were stunning!
[rock-hopping boulders – way scarier than it looks with giant caverns between the rocks]
[thank god for the rope]
AND what better to celebrate a great first night in Grand Marais than a flight of beers at the Voyager Brewing Company and awesome apps to boot (seriously tho, try the Reuben Egg Rolls, O.M.G! Ed: The Thai Chicken Tacos were my favorite!!). The vibe is clean, yet rustic with timber and industrial accents, giant Jenga, and friendly staff. Wish I would’ve gotten one of their t-shirts actually – the logo is rad!
We stayed right in downtown Grand Marais at the Cobblestone Cove Villas with Lake Superior right outside our doorstep. Good life decision — it was uber convenient and we were able to walk to everything in downtown Grand Marais. The condos were nice, modern, clean, and very comfortable.
The next morning, after an unbelievable omelet at The Pie Place we embarked on our big hiking day.
Our first hike was about a mile and a half up the Superior Trail to the Devil’s Kettle. Sounds ominous, right? Well IT IS! There is a place in the Brule River (in Judge Magney State Park) where the river splits in two. Half of the river goes over a 30+ foot beautiful waterfall. That’s cool. But what’s really crazy is what happens to the other half of the river. It falls down into a hole in the ground. Beyond that, no one knows where all the water goes. Researchers have tried dying the water, putting LOTS of ping pong balls in, and they’ve never been able to determine where it all ends up. So basically, don’t fall in!
Interesting read about the Devil’s Kettle: http://www.unmuseum.org/devils_kettle.htm
Video of the NON-EVIL side of the falls
After a quick, but DELICIOUS lunch on the rooftop of Sydney’s Frozen Custard and Wood Fired Pizza (where we didn’t get custard, OR pizza), we headed out for the second, BIG hike! Devils Track Canyon to Pincushion Mountain, on the Superior Hiking Trail.
Here’s the route we took up to the top of Pincushion Mountain. There are so many great hikes in Grand Marais, but if you have only one afternoon this one is it! It’s around 3.2 miles and according to Ed’s iphone, 291 floors worth of ups and downs!. Spectacular views and lookouts on the way up. The trail goes along Devils Track canyon, the deepest gorge in Minnesota. Lots of ups and downs, beautiful overlooks of the canyon, and cool little bridges that cross the various “offshoot canyons”.
[note Justin’s kick-ass shirt]
The top of Pincushion Mountain was AMAZING. And we couldn’t have timed it any better. We got up there just in time to catch some amazing views and watch the fog (CLOUDS!) roll in. Such an experience to feel the change in temp as the clouds move right past you!
[Timelapse of the fog rolling in… cause timelapse is kinda what we do!]
[cheers at the top!]
[deposited walking sticks at trail head – note Justin’s blinged-out staff fabrication handiwork on the right]
And after this fun day of hiking we were beat to say the least. So we grabbed some Sven & Ole’s Pizza — (more like I crawled into Sven & Ole’s and sprawled on the table until food was put in my mouth) — and headed over to Gunflint Tavern for a beer. We also were lucky enough to catch a live band there, Timbre Junction. What a treat!! Fun to see some banjo playin’ and blugrass singin’.
And with that we flew out the next day after driving back to Ely in our rockstar van. Goodbye Grand Marais! Until next time!
Here’s to living deeper, farther and higher!
-Ed and Colleen 🙂